Best Laptop for Music – Choosing a laptop capable of running CPU-intensive audio production work can be tricky. Some options focus heavily on battery life. Others major on performance, and favour higher-grade processors (CPUs) to ensure operations run snappily. Add into that differences in screen sizes, aesthetics and any number of other variables and we can easily see how it’s hard to justify buying one model over another.
Adding extra effects or instrument plugins works the CPU. Exporting finished versions of your tracks works the CPU. You get the picture. If it involves processing, the CPU is your best friend so it pays to prioritise a solid model over most other features.
You’re essentially looking for two major things on the spec-sheet above all others: the CPU and the available RAM. The CPU is what does the real work. So every time you load a new MIDI instrument, fill the piano roll with data, or bounce down audio to new tracks, you’re asking the CPU to translate it into sound.
Many of the laptop we have chosen to review have attributes we haven’t delved into in an effort to keep specification breakdowns relevant to audio production purposes. We have also aimed to surmise in concise terms all of the more vital aspects you will require to get a laptop with optimum performance when running a digital audio workspace.
Whilst many of those we have looked at are capable of installing and running them fairly competently we have chosen to be very honest and clear as music production software can be very demanding of your computer as your production skills and methods evolve.
Coming into this review, I had a catalog of potential pitfalls that Apple could have fallen into when switching from an Intel chip to its own processor. Chip transitions are devilishly hard and don’t usually go smoothly. This MacBook Air not only avoids almost all of those pitfalls, but it gleefully leaps over them.
Not everything is perfect, of course. Apple’s insistence on using dumpy webcams continues to be a bummer, and running iPad apps is a mess. But as I used the MacBook Air, I often found myself so impressed that I had a hard time believing it.
If you were tempted to buy an XPS 13 earlier this year following its significant redesign (model 9300) but didn’t pull the trigger, it’s a good thing you waited. Now you can get everything we like about the new laptop with the added bonus of the latest Intel silicon.
The CPU bump is essentially the only change from the 9300 to the current model 9310, but it’s an important one if you plan to keep your machine for five years or more. Dell does churn out new XPS 13 models at a prodigious rate, sometimes multiple times per year. Still, a brand-new processor and a physical redesign that’s not even a year old make the 9310 a safe buy for people who don’t want their expensive investment to be upstaged by something vastly better in a few months.
Almost a year and a half later, here in 2021, it remains the alpha dog among 2-in-1 detachables. A handful of competitors have come for the crown (full support for its Surface stablemate, the Surface Pro X, never quite materialized), and bending, non-detaching 2-in-1 convertible laptops are worthy alternatives. But the Surface Pro design is still our favorite among pure detachables.
(A model with updated components, the Surface Pro 7+, is also now available; more about that in a bit.) The physical design is showing its age somewhat—we anticipate a new-look version next time around—but it still has strong tablet chops. If you’re looking for a less expensive 2-in-1 to use when working in what passes for mobile fashion these days, shuttling from room to room instead of airport to airport, the Pro 7 is the go-to in its category for a reason.
The Razer Blade 15, a perennial favorite among gaming laptops for its premium metal chassis and slick, slim design, has reached new heights this year. The 2021 Blade 15 Advanced Edition now carries Nvidia’s GeForce RTX “Ampere” 30 Series GPUs, unlocking a new level of gaming performance—and our test unit’s RTX 3080 can leverage the fast 240Hz refresh rate of its desktop-caliber 1440p display.
Add a Core i7 CPU, 1TB of solid-state storage (both present in all models), 32GB of RAM (in our tester), a useful complement of ports, and nearly nine hours of battery life, and there’s a whole lot to love. Yes, it’s expensive, but this Razer represents the best of the best in the premium gaming space, earning an Editors’ Choice award for its reasonable portability, high build quality, and screaming speed.
5.Asus ROG Strix
It’s no secret that Asus has an extensive range of gaming laptops – and that they’re usually pretty good. The firm’s latest 2021 release is the Asus ROG Strix G15 G513, and it combines Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070 graphics with a top-tier AMD Ryzen processor.
You’d think that such hardware would be pricey, but that’s not the case. In the UK, the G15 costs a surprising £1,699, and it also includes a 1080p display with a 300Hz refresh rate.
Best Laptop for Music – BUYER’S GUIDE
CPUs: A fork in the road
Essentially, a faster processor means two things; your computer can handle more tasks being thrown at it, and it can ‘process’ those things a lot quicker. You may see only small differences; perhaps an audio file will render one minute quicker using the faster of two processors, but over time this clearly adds up.
In the CPU world, there are two major players. Intel is the big name, with a huge share of the market. Intel’s range goes from i3 – the least powerful – all the way up to i9. Most common in mid-to-upper tier laptops, however, are the i5 and i7 variants, and within that sphere you have different speed ratings, measured in gigahertz, as well as the option to turbo-boost when you’re placing the computer under major stress. The other name to look out for is AMD, which produces the Ryzen processors. These follow a similar nomenclature to the Intel versions, so R3, R5 and so on, and are popular amongst the gaming crowd.
Where things might change in the coming years is with Apple’s switch to using its own in-house silicon CPU, called the M1. It’s been well-documented about the changes that are on the way, and the resulting boost in power and performance, but for musicians and producers the true benefits to this are likely a way off yet. For a start, the software vendors must ensure compatibility with this new architecture which is by no means guaranteed. So, while it’s worth keeping an eye on developments, it doesn’t necessarily mean holding off on your purchase in the short term.
With RAM, as we mentioned, you can ignore the ‘minimum specs’ listed on the websites of the major DAWs. Anybody who tries to run a multitrack Ableton Live session on a laptop with 4GB of RAM is braver (or more patient) than we are. That’s because RAM is effectively the short-term memory of your machine. With audio applications, particularly those involving lots of recorded audio, a higher amount of RAM means your audio playback is buttery smooth and glitch-free because the computer isn’t having to ‘grab’ the audio from the hard drive each time it wants to play.
If you’re buying now, with the next few years of use in mind, we’d suggest 8GB of DDR4 memory is the absolute minimum you should be looking for. Ideally, you’d want 16GB, as this will handle much larger arrangements, although there is a cost to this extra resource.
It’s also worth investigating whether the laptop you choose can be upgraded with extra RAM in the future. Apple laptop fans won’t have this luxury, due to their sealed chassis, but laptop PC users might.
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Storage memory comes a close second. For audio applications, particularly those involving sample libraries where audio is streamed from disk, you’ll want to use a solid state drive (SSD). The benefit of these drives is the rapid data transfer, meaning files load quicker, although they are slightly more expensive than their hard disk drive (HDD) equivalent. For music production applications, however, the extra expense is totally justified.
It’s not uncommon however to see a combination employed – a HDD for storage of files, photos and videos, and an SSD for tasks where more instantaneous responses are required. The alternative involves using external hard drives; SSDs, particularly those that take advantage of USB-C technology, are more than capable of the types of transfer speeds required for music production.
So, clearly there is a lot to think about when choosing the best laptop for music production.
It’s easy to see why a good all-round laptop can fetch a premium price tag, but, as with anything from the best samplers and studio monitors to home studio mixers, you get what you pay for, so it’s always wise to get the best you can afford, rather than skimping and regretting your purchase later (often quicker than you thought). Our price comparison software will come in handy here. Next to each product entry on this guide our price widgets will display the best deals online right now to save you shopping around.
We won’t be focussing on various legacy ins and outs, such as the number of USB sockets, or lack of, for your audio interface, and so on. With so many dongle and docking options available, this shouldn’t be a deciding factor in your purchasing journey. In this guide we’re talking sheer horsepower for music-making. For example, can your portable rig cope with large multitrack sessions, running handfuls of plugins and MIDI instruments? Want to take a closer look? Hit the ‘product guide & reviews’ button above.
Frequently Asked Questions
Best Budget Laptop For Music Production?
Unfortunately in the world of audio production the faster the better, so as to avoid crashes and glitches or latency loss in the middle of recordings. The top laptops for audio production we have looked at in this article all make for reasonably priced budget options.
The best value for money in our opinion would be the Alienware or the Razor Blade Stealth, each are gaming laptops with high-end graphics that have good sound processing capability, they have superior CPUs and great clock speeds and fair RAM and storage. They aren’t however exactly cheap.
The cheapest option on our list is the tablet option, the Lenovo yoga book, but it only runs an Android operating system so won’t manage most full DAW. It makes for a good option if cash is of concern, for younger users and those just curiously branching out into songwriting. There are a decent amount of Apps that have great content for basic audio production. If your budget simply won’t stretch to the $1000 dollar mark this might be an ideal starting point for you.
Which Is Better For Music Production – Laptop or Desktop?
Ultimately a desktop is better for music production especially considering that they can be upgraded and built-on with relative ease. Though much more capable, they have their drawbacks meaning they need to be set up and remain where they are located. They are a worthy investment if you’re serious about setting up a home studio, however, we live in a modern world that is constantly on the move and being able to take your work with you is every bit as valuable.
If you already have a studio set-up a laptop for music production essential tools for taking those hours of endless editing home with you to be done in more comfortable surroundings.
There are some great laptops around which bring with them their smaller footprint and the convenience of being able to set up shop at a moments notice in any situation, however, the truly capable ones with the ideal set of specs can set you back in excess of $2500.
If you are investing in a new laptop that can specifically handle your DAW workloads you will need one with a good number of USB ports (ideally 3.0 or Thunderbolt), a great processor, fast memory speeds, 16+ GB of RAM and a decent amount of SSD storage.
There is a good chance you’ll have lots of programs and tabs open at the same time and you will need the ability to add at least 1 extra screen (many people use 2 or 3). These usage requirements use a lot of RAM and graphic power, respectively. I recommend getting at least 16GB RAM if at all possible.
Most important for audio processing is a CPU with fast single-core performance. This will allow you to get your mixes into a single file much quicker and process effects and chains without the CPU needing to wait, among many other benefits. 8th generation Intel i7 processors are the best, followed by Intel i5. 7th generation processors are also excellent.